Seeing is being: female role models in Dutch biology and physics secondary education textbooks
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To date, the field of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is male-dominated, causing women to experience a low sense of belonging to the field and leading them to refrain from pursuing a science related career. In the Netherlands, a person’s first decision towards a possible career in the field of science takes place in secondary school during the subject cluster choice. Here, a similar pattern is found with very few girls choosing physics, a science field with a male image, when compared to biology which has a gender neutral image. This paper investigates the female role model availability in Dutch physics and biology textbooks, supported by exploratory interviews on the influence of girls’ social environment on their subject cluster choice. Twelve textbooks on the subjects of biology and physics were analysed and Dutch female secondary school pupils were interviewed on the factors of their subject cluster choice. The results indicate a significant difference in male and female role model availability in both biology and physics textbooks. Women are mentioned significantly less regarding a science related occupation. Both fictional and nonfictional individuals were more likely to be male than female. Additionally, both subjects were found to use male pronouns to refer to (previously) gender neutral individuals significantly more than female pronouns. Furthermore, images in biology textbooks show women and men at a similar frequency, while physics textbooks depict in images men significantly more often than women. Finally, girls perceive their career aspirations and interest to be the main factors of their subject cluster choice. The influence of the media, and a parent figure or teacher is mentioned as a factor for their decisions as well. The underrepresentation of women in relation to science in Dutch secondary school textbooks of biology and physics, can result in a lower sense of belonging, self-efficacy, and interest of girls to STEM and maintain the male image within science. Inclusion of more female role models in education could change the male stereotype and be the start of a more diverse and inclusive science.